Guest post by Brian Hansford, a veteran B2B marketer and marketing automation expert. Brian joined Heinz Marketing as Account Director this month.

This is the first in a four-part series from Brian covering marketing automation best practices.

Marketing automation initiatives are not easy. Sorry, but that’s the truth. In fact, ‘marketing automation’ in and of itself is a terrible descriptor. But if done properly, marketing automation initiatives offer incredible promise.

A successful implementation requires thorough planning, vision, and leadership. I believe there are four critical areas to focus on – Process, People, Platforms and Content. The first place to start is building a process for lead management and demand generation.

Marketing automation technology enables workflow and processes. The value is in using technology to best engage buyers at the right time in their buying cycle. Marketing automation solutions will do what they are told to do. This means that a poorly designed and inefficient process will be enabled. Think it through!

How to start? Get on a white board and agree on definitions!

Successful marketing automation initiatives map workflows that support a buyer through their journey. The so-called Buyer’s Journey is a process in itself that begins with research and awareness and moves all the way through the point of purchase, and post-sale with ongoing relationship marketing. Marketing automation enables small and large processes. These processes can include any of the following such as segmentation, lead scoring, nurturing, content delivery, and alignment with sales. Ultimately they ALL roll-up to supporting the Buyer’s Journey.

We recommend starting in a phased approach that evolves into more sophisticated utilization as knowledge and skills grow. I have seen even the largest B2B technology organizations fail because process and workflow were poorly designed.

A good starting point is securing agreement on critical definitions with Sales, including the definition of a qualified lead. In a lead management workflow there are two stages of a qualified lead. The first stage is a Marketing Qualified Lead (or MQL). Secondly, what are the extra steps Sales takes to make the MQL a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)? When agreeing on definitions, a big step is taken towards developing the initial stages of a lead management process.

Ask Questions and Find Answers

Here are nine great questions to ask and answer when designing a process:

1. Where do leads come from?
2. What contact information should be collected and how?
3. How do we segment and triage leads?
4. What is a ‘qualified’ lead?
5. Who do we send marketing qualified leads to for follow up?
6. What content should we send to leads, when, and how often?
7. How will our marketing automation platform integrate with our CRM system?
8. If leads are disqualified, how will they be managed?
9. What are the KPIs we need to measure to determine effectiveness and efficiency?

Once you ask these questions your team may ask even more questions on building the lead management process that supports your business. And the more questions answered before going into production, the better the odds for succeeding with a marketing automation initiative.

Have questions for Brian about your lead management or marketing automation strategy?  Email him directly at brian at heinzmarketing dot com.